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Paul Kantner Memorial: “So pick up the cry! Got to revolution!”

February 2, 2016

I was not aware that Paul died a few days ago. I’m a belated reader of the SF Chronicle, I get my news from the radio (PBS, thank you), and evidently this news was not considered nobit there from the SF Guardianewsworthy enough, what with Trump and the Iowa caucuses, Sika virus, and what-have-you.

First thing I did on learning this news, was of course go to google for confirmation. An had links to the Airplane singing “Volunteers” at Woodstock. I know, I’m aging myself here, but not that much.

“Volunteers” was a call to revolution. Well, it was a band with a song that at least made that call. “So pick up the cry! Got to revolution!” The song spoke to me, the idea spoke to me, and it continues to speak to me. “You are not going to be able to unring the bell!” (PK in an interview)

This nation has always been on the verge of a real democratic republic—the ideal envisioned in our constitution—but has always been misled by the corporate influence on the two “parties” that pretend to policies for the people, that are in fact for the extremes of wealth which wield the political power in today’s USA.

The call to revolution is directed at the naïve and idealistic. I know, I was one of them. Maybe I still am, but with the dimming eyesight of years I see that corporate interests have coopted revolution. Because they know that what follows is inevitably chaos, and have already laid the groundwork for reaping further profit from the chaos.

This is not to say that change is not worth fighting for. But seeing Kantner’s band playing that same song in suitcoats and ties at their induction to the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame is a reminder that things change. The song is not the same.

So, Paul Kantner, thanks for the memories, they go back a long long way. And more recently, catching the band and the song from a boat out in the water in Sausalito, playing that old familiar song. It still made my heart beat a little bit faster. “So pick up the cry! Got to revolution!”

The Jungle Market: Panacea for a not-quite-lost world

January 3, 2016

Dateline: Puerto Morelos, Quintana Roo, Mexico

If your travels to the “Mexican Riviera” in Yucatan are in the line of “all-inclusive-resort,” then you are really missing something in the Jungle Market. This place is the heartfelt brainchild of former travel consultant Sandra, who saw in 1995 that the resort movement north from Playa Del Carmen and south from Cancun was about to swallow up the only bit of original community left on that gorgeous, reef-bound coast.

Her answer: The Jungle Market in (well, pretty far out along the outskirts of) the charming town of Puerto Morelos. Her own story has her convincing her husband that her dream of “community tourism” could thrive here and scraping up enough cash for a down payment and a handshake land contract on one hectare of (at the time) real jungle. The seller brought her to the end of a dirt trail and hacked a way into the bush with a machete. There she built the first of several palapas, engaged the friendship of some Mayan ladies, and with them set up shop.

Today, the road to the place is still unpaved, and the palm trees and crotons grow lush around the vendors booths and alfresco restaurants. The merchandise is of wide variety, much of it locally made and not found in other outdoor markets. The smiles are free, as are photo ops with a green parrot. My ongoing global search for the perfect chile relleno may have ended here. What the chile lacked in elegance was more than completed by the splendor of the outdoor setting.

Today’s market included a tenth-anniversary celebration of the Jungle Market’s grand opening. First, a little music. No mariachi here, no rock’n’roll, but a lively set by by a four-piece band from Veracruz. Then a few words by Sandra, la reina de Puerto Morelos. Next all the ladies we had just met in the vendors’ stalls were now in traditional Mayan dress on the paved plaza. A maypole dance, with the ladies of the audience invited onstage to join in, to be followed by all the men and children in a lively chicken dance.

When the dancing was done, Sandra asked everyone present to stand and join hands in a circle, and chant together three “oms.” The celebration had become elevated to a more spiritual level, a prayer for world peace that each could take home and spread wherever that may be.

You have to leave California to get there, though. The Jungle Market is only one of dozens of reasons to spend your vacation in Puerto Morelos.

The Jungle Market, is open Sundays only, 10:00-1:00, December 16 through April.
• “Original handmade crafts by the local women.”
• “Fabulous Mayan Food by the women. Delicious and safe to eat, so come have breakfast!
• “Bring your Family! Fun for everyone!”
Where: Puerto Morelos, Ixchel Jungle Spa Calle Dos.
Telephone: In Mexico (998) 2089148
More info:

JungleMarket Maypole

Christmas Eve 2015: A Coldwater Blessing

December 24, 2015

I was getting my hair (what there is of it) cut today, and engaged in idle conversation with my Vietnamese stylist Lori. I had just come back from a weeklong sailing adventure offshore. One of the Seaward’s stops that week included an overnight in a secluded cove on Santa Rosa Island. In the morning, some of the crew wanted to take the morning for a swim, regardless of how cold the water in the cove might be on this winter solstice day.

Not being one to watch another brave a coldwater bath while staying on deck and comfortably dry and relatively warm, I cut the legs off an old pair of jeans with a pocketknife and was first in the water. Cold, yes, but not unbearably so. 60º I’m told. I washed my hair in the sea with dish detergent in lieu of shampoo.

As I related this to Lori, she mentioned that when she was in a refugee camp in Thailand in 1988 with her sister and her father, that everyone in the camp got a single bucket of cold water each day for their entire ration, to be used as drinking, cooking, and bathing water. A single bucket per person. Not easy to live with, she said, but “We were happy.” Living under such restrained conditions was, for that family, life as it was to be lived for a time.

“That is the price of freedom,” she said. Made my seawater shampoo seem like a luxury item.

What we take for granted every single day and barely notice, is a precious thing, and not to be ignored or wasted. So here’s a thought for you this Christmas Eve, and maybe every evening throughout the year. When you think of the gifts and blessings you have received, are any of them as valuable as that bucket of cold water, once a day?

La Pastorela: A Christmas Legend brought to life by El Teatro Campesino

December 1, 2015

The Mission San Juan Bautista is stage and auditorium for the marvelous productions of the company Teartro de los Camposinos at the end of every year. There are two productions alternating annually: even numbered years feature La Virgen Del Tepeyac, and odd numbered years the current run of La Pastorela, starting the day after Thanksgiving and closing the weekend before Christmas. The program notes tell it simply: “These Christmas plays are a labor of love, involving the young and the old, veterans and newcomers, professional actors and nonprofessionals, in a gesture of spirt, tradition and faith by and for our community.” And, I might add, to be shared freely with the rest of us.

The wonder and charm of these productions is beyond description, but I’ll try. If you like forcefully dramatic singing from an intimate, in-the-round stage, if your eye delights in dance and color and costume, if you like your drama mixed with humor or the other way around, all presented in a historic building that has hosted miracles for two hundred years, you have come to the right place.

2015 marks the 50th year of the company, which arose originally in the fields of Delano as an ad hoc organization of the striking farmworkers during Cesar Chavez’ 1965 strike in Delano CA. They kept together, moved to San Juan Bautista, and by 1971 were staging annual performances of La Virgen in the mission.

The story of la pastorela is centuries old. This version has its origin San Luis Potosi, and was added to the repertoire in 1976, alternating annually with La Virgen. It tells the story of the shepherds (los pastoreles) witnessing the birth of Christ, but there is much more to this story than you might have thought. Luzbel (that is, Lucifer played by Alfredo Avila), anticipating the loss of his kingdom to the Messiah, appears in a vision and sends Satanas (Satan, played by Sedrick Cabrera) and all his cohorts—the seven deadly sins—to tempt and confuse them. While the hermit (Carlos Cortez) sleeps, they are all turned into sheep, but la pastorela Gila (Emily Morales) will not be tempted.

All this is performed from the raised central stage at the intersection of the mission’s nave and transept, by professional actor/singers supported by a vast chorus of family members young (the youngest of the devils, Greed, couldn’t have been older than seven) and old, drummers and musicians of all sorts, inventive lighting to make the miracles seem that much more miraculous. When Lucifer takes the stage, his power is palpable, but the winged San Miguel (Stephani Canedlaria), in a mighty battle scene between all the devils and all the angels, is that much more powerful. In the end, the devils and Lucifer himself are transformed, and go in turn to kneel before Joseph and Mary and the baby Jesus.

It matters but little that the performance is almost entirely spoken and sung in Spanish. The program includes a comprehensive libretto in English which clearly states the action scene by scene, and all that is really needed is a careful reading before the lights go down. Then you can follow, as I did, the action, dance and drama, taking it all in wide-eyed and transported to another time, another place.

This is a work of art in community, and that community includes excellent lodging in town at La Posada Inn, across the street from the box office. The mission itself is surrounded by open fields reminiscent of its earlier days as an outpost along El Camino Real.

Weekends through December 20, 2015. Performances Thursday-Saturday 8:00, Sundays 4:00 and 7:30
Box Office: 831.623.2444. El Teatro Campesino, 705 Fourth Street, P.O. Box 1240, San Juan Bautista, CA 95045

The Art of Writing: James Wood on Primo Levi

November 25, 2015

“On the basis of the first chapter alone, you know that you are in the hands of a true writer, someone equipped with an avaricious and indexical memory, who knows how to animate is details, stage his scenes, and ration his anecdotes.”

Such a succinct description of the art to which all we writers aspire, and so seldom achieve.

Consider these ideas in turn.

“An avaricious and indexical memory.” Nothing escapes the author’s notice; he is greedy to accumulate names and descriptions and circumstances, and careful to file them all away where they can be called upon, like money in a bank deposit accruing interest all the while.

“Animate his details.” Data is not information. A wealth of details carelessly piled too deeply smother the life out of each other until the whole passage is rendered dead to the senses.

“Stage his scenes.” Life is a drama, fiction is a story, the narrative of nonfiction must be paced like a play on stage lest the audience be confused and sensing the lapses of the playwright leave the theatre before the climax can arrive.

“Ration his anecdotes.” The narrative as a whole IS the story, and any anecdotes that help to shape it should do no more than that, or else THEY become the story, and dilute the narrative to a thin consistency no longer worth recommending, or remembering.

The introductory sentence is quoted from James Wood’s “The Art of Witness” New Yorker (9/28/15) piece on author Primo Levi. Levi’s mastery of the narrative art in his book “If This is a Man” bears compelling witness to his experiences in Auschwitz, and those around him who did not survive.

Total Immersion: Forty-Part Harmony at Gallery 308

November 23, 2015

If you are the sort of person known to shed a tear or two in the presence of an achingly beautiful four-part harmony, then the swelling harmonies of Thomas Tallis’s 16th-century Forty Part Motet will challenge your imagination.

The piece in all its luxurious drama is playing now at Fort Mason, in a unique presentation you will not hear anywhere else. You stand in the center of a 30’ diameter circle of voices, a 360° experience with each voice emanating from a single speaker, equidistant and at ear level. Such total aural immersion is a sensation you would not get from an auditorium, with a forty-voice chorale on stage, certainly not from a CD played through a few speakers.

It is this total immersion that makes this experience so memorable, “surround sound” at the highest level. Each voice is aimed directly at you, at once distinct and masterfully blended. The waves of music wash over you; your spirit lifted and then gently settled back again.

You are not likely to have another experience like this, unless you take advantage of the free performances again and again, as I intend to do until it closes in January. Let the first time be transcendent as you stand or sit in the center of this array, go a second time to study it intellectually.

The Forty Part Motet is a 40-part choral performance of English composer, Thomas Tallis’s 16th-century composition Spem in Alium, sung by the Salisbury Cathedral Choir. The performance is played in a 14-minute loop that includes 11 minutes of singing and 3 minutes of intermission. Installation designed and installed by Jane Cardiff, presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

All performances are free, at the new Gallery 308 at Fort Mason.
Box Office
Through January 18, 2016.

Explorers Provocateurs: Medicine on the Mountain

November 2, 2015

I was fortunate enough to be invited along yesterday on the most recent San Francisco Explorer Club’s occasional field trips, this one to Mount Diablo for an informal “Field Medicine” tutorial by the inimitable Dr. Paul Freitas.

The doc himself has been medico-proper on several Quark expeditions to the Antarctic, and is quite versed in the ad hoc treatment of sprains and breaks and more serious trauama resulting from falls, in the careful administration of field diagnosis of the un- or barely-conscious. He was joined in this sharing of arcane knowledge by Von Hurson, EMT and snow-rescue maven extraordinaire.

En route we had a number of staged accidents, designed to demonstrate the various uses of duct tape (splints), climbing rope (emergency carry equipment), blankets and outwear (drafted into stretcher use), enhanced with a brief but significant lesson in what to say and do to the injured party and more importantly what not to do until you are sure that the accident has not resulted in a broken neck or back.

This brief refresher on boy scout first aid learned—well, a few decades back—was a sobering lesson on “being prepared.” Often this means more than thinking ahead (have you prepared your trek-kit?). Being prepared to improvise with the materials at hand may well prove to be more important. This is a life-lesson worth adopting for whatever endeavor you may take on.

Dr. Paul’s resume of notable field events include the rescue of a foolhardy man fallen into and stuck in the V 24 feet down an Antarctic crevasse, and the hypodermic draining of fluid from around a distressed heart in a makeshift OR on a sea-tossed ship.

For us, a picnic and some shared stories. These explorers, what a curious band they are.


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